We interview Content Director Mike Donatelli about WildStar's raids, guild fortresses, patch plans and more!
By almost any measure, Mike Donatelli is a busy man. As Content Director for Carbine on upcoming MMO WildStar, he oversees a huge number of teams. Social systems, economy, crafting and dungeons are all part of his domain. About the only thing he doesn’t manage is combat and PvP, with Carbine choosing to have a dedicated team purely focused on those classes, mechanics and telegraphs.
It’s clear that he’s also excited to be able to discuss WildStar for the first time outside a locked and sealed office door. For the person responsible for a large amount of our journey to level cap and beyond, it’s clear that he’s proud of what his team has put together.
The reason is obvious: Donatelli is one of us; a classic old-school died-in-the-wool MMO fanatic, who fought his way up after landing his first industry job with Mythic, doing Customer Service for Dark Age of Camelot. “I played the crap out of MMOs and a buddy of mine got in there and he said, ‘Hey look, they’re looking to set up customer service.’ So I got in that way and I worked myself up to customer service supervisor. When I was a supervisor I was like ‘I’m done’. But then that gave me a really good insight into the way players react to the things devs would do.”
“I’d have players telling me ‘Not only does this encounter suck, but it’s broken.’ I would troubleshoot it and then take it to a dev, and say ‘Look, I got a hundred player complaints last night about this.’ They’d be like ‘That’s the way it was intended.’ That’s not a response. I think that really colored my view of feedback. When all you’re doing is dealing with the player every day and what they love and hate, it gives you a definite view that a player is not something to abuse but it’s a customer.” Since then, Donatelli worked his way up the design ladder working on Warhammer and Crimecraft, before joining Carbine as a Senior Designer.
A Promise of Legendary Raiding
Donatelli and his team have been focusing on that old problem of raider burnout – how do you keep raids fresh, interesting and worth running week in, week out? With the promise of twenty and forty man raiding, coupled with raids that change every week, I was eager to know more. And I was floored by the response.
The dungeon team hit a problem early on. If dungeons change every week, what happens when one group gets a boss with DPS adds, while another group gets the same boss with healer adds? If you’ve got a world first kill riding on it, changing the adds can change the difficulty completely. Donatelli told me that the raider guys on his dungeon team were flipping desks.
His solution was to ensure that every server has the exact same dungeon configuration every week. But that’s not all. “Imagine a boss room in a raid. Then imagine a boss room where I can swap plugs, so one time you go in there’s a gaping chasm across the whole thing that’s shooting steam up in the air and you have to use your utility movement thing to go back and forth across it and not take damage, and then the next time you go in it’s not there anymore. And now it’s like steam geysers with multiple tubes of steam. We can do that.”
“I’m not going to say it’s never ending and you’ll never get the same one twice. I’m saying that there'll be a dozen different variations, that boss fight is the same boss, same loot same things you want, but it’s ‘oh my god, it’s the one with the chasm, this sucks.’ You know what I mean? ‘But this is the one we’re going to get for a week so we have to develop our strategy around that.’”
The tells and telegraphs will still be in play, with Donatelli adding that “We can do so many things with group telegraphs. There’s a level of those telegraphs you don’t even get to see in the level 6 content. Where your group and your raid’s telegraphs interact with each other in that experience is crazy.”
The Path system, where players choose an adventuring style to suit them, is also a key part of the raiding experience. “We have a lot of path interaction where Settlers who build things can build very cool things, and Soldiers have super cool abilities and because we can say you’re in this instance and this week it’s this with these plugs and these sub bosses, I can also turn around and give these [Path] abilities. So now, because you’re a soldier you have a special ability you didn’t have when it was that other thing. And again, it just allows for a level of replayability that is just not there in the ‘shit a monster out, stick it in a room’ and say ‘watch out, it’s going to knock you in the fire.’”
“The 40 man raid … it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever been involved in, design wise. It’s old school, we have play tests where all we do is run around the dungeon with 40 guys just to make sure that the play space is of an appropriate nature. But the combat and the things, those boss fights are unlike … I wish I could talk about it. But there’s some crazy stuff in there that you, like, holy crap, this boss fight itself could be an entire dungeon, so it is a massive undertaking. We’ve been working on it; we’ll probably end up working on it the entire project.”
With raids changing configuration every week, my thoughts immediately leapt to a possible return of high-end competitive PvE. To support such a measure, you’d need some kind of leader board system to gather stats from raiders. Once again, Donatelli delivers.
“The leader boarding and competition is 100% what we’re doing. Whether that feedback is dumped into a webpage that we run or if it’s an in-game window you can pull up, that I’m not 100% sure about. Now we’re building the hooks for that in-game so that we can pull those metrics out and deliver them in a format to the player base, but I’m not exactly 100% sure whether that’s going to be in-game or out of game. Leader boards across all those group and guild orientated things was always a high priority.”
Outside of raiding, there’s one other activity that Donatelli shared some details on – flying fortresses. Using the same system that’s been built to provide player housing, Guilds will be able to build massive platforms in the sky, then send them to battle against other top guilds. It doesn’t end at just unlocking the feature either, as Donatelli explained how you’ll be able to convert your fortress into a floating platform of death.
“Go throughout the world, play all the content, collect the 18 pieces you need to build a helicopter pad so that helicopter’s fly off and strafe the enemy stronghold. If a player wants to hoard points and then use that for orbital strikes, then they can do whatever they want. That is all that is, that is two enormous groups of players, creating their own fortress and fighting against someone else’s fortress and it’s however they want to do it.” We’ve also heard rumors of being able to capture raid bosses and use them as cannon fodder against your enemies.
Beyond guilds and raids, Donatelli assured me that dungeons would appear throughout the levelling content, with that same variability tech in use that we’ll find in raids. He also mentioned something that he cautiously described as “a more group orientated, strategic, game play experience” that we’ll be able to experience while climbing to level cap.
Push Button to Change World
This plug-and-socket power isn’t just confined to dungeons, with Donatelli also having the power to change the world at the push of a button. By patching content in beforehand, it’s possible for him to trigger events while the game is live, with players immediately experiencing the changed landscape.
“In one fell swoop, with a very easily made cinematic from our cinematics team. I can show a meteor plummeting towards the planet’s surface, white screen the whole thing out, shake the whole world and take the mountain away and swap in an enormous crater with a meteor in it that is spewing out aliens. And I can do it in runtime. If you’re on the mountain, you’ll just get knocked way, way, way back and you’ll land on the ground and all of a sudden there’s a collision on an enormous thing that has now changed the entire landscape”
“Now there’s certain elements I won’t get into too much of, but there are elements that could reverse that. And as long as we do it right, we can do some pretty amazing stuff. You as a player for a month wouldn’t even realize that you’re standing on top of what we’re going to flip a switch one day and make a wildly different play space. You could still do the same content in and around it but we can change that stuff. And because it’s so nuts - the evolution of it - where the game can go is pretty crazy.”
“A lot of old games that I won’t name they would try to do things of that nature. Ok look, we’re spawning in these things and they’re floating over the terrain. That’s why all that floats, because there’s no collision. So it’s very easy to put anything you want floating around in the sky or in the sky box because you don’t have to get on top of it, but we can make it so you can get on top of all these things. Bring in whole new play spaces. If we wanted to bring in a space cruiser and have it hovering around, we can put you on it, you can run around on it. That’s even easier.”